Dr. Thomas Lindquist, who was medical director for the largest cornea transplant program in the world and a surgeon with Group Health Cooperative, died March 3 while vacationing in Hawaii. He was 66.

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Dr. Thomas Lindquist, a Seattle eye surgeon who helped create the largest cornea-transplant program in the world, died March 3 while swimming in Maui, Hawaii. He was 66.

Dr. Lindquist served for nearly 30 years as medical director for SightLife, a nonprofit global health organization that provides 25,000 corneas for transplant worldwide each year, according to Monty Montoya, president and chief executive.

“It’s been quite a shock and really one of the biggest losses our organization has ever experienced,” Montoya said.

Dr. Lindquist was vacationing with his wife, Joan Lindquist, according to son Dr. Tim Lindquist. The elder Lindquist apparently suffered a heart attack or other cardiac problem while swimming. Other swimmers saw he was in distress and lifted him onto a paddleboard to perform CPR in the water. Paramedics on personal watercraft responded, but efforts were not successful.

Dr. Tom Lindquist, a cornea-transplant surgeon, was also chief of cornea and external diseases at Group Health Cooperative.

He had planned to retire next month, said Dr. Michael Lee, an ophthalmologist at Group Health who knew Dr. Lindquist for 30 years, first as a student at the University of Washington and then as a colleague.

“Everything he did was just top-notch,” Lee said. “But he never acted like he was important. You could meet him on an airplane and never know he was world-famous.”

When Dr. Lindquist joined the eye bank in 1987, the agency was supplying about 500 corneas each year, Montoya said.

“His primary job was to ensure that as we grew, we were maintaining the same or better quality of tissue that we were providing throughout the world,” Montoya said. “And he managed the quality after the process was done. It was really his fingerprint that was all over that.”

Dr. Lindquist, who held medical and doctoral degrees from the Medical College of New Jersey, published more than 90 papers, more than 40 book chapters and co-authored five editions of “Ophthalmic Surgery,” a textbook. In 2009, he was awarded the profession’s top honor by the Eye Bank Association of America.

Dr. Lindquist, the son of missionaries, grew up in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was inspired to pursue a career in medicine by the disease and illness he saw there, particularly corneal blindness, his son said.

“He was excellent everywhere he went. In every area of his life, he managed to make an impact,” Tim Lindquistsaid.

Dr. Lindquist donated his corneas and other tissue for transplant, Montoya said.

Along with his wife, Dr. Lindquist is survived by four children: Jennifer Elsen, 36, of Chicago; Tim Lindquist, 34, of Kansas City., Kan.; Dr. Peter Lindquist, 33, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Andrew Lindquist, 25, of Chicago; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Friday, March 18, at University Presbyterian Church, 4540 15th Ave. N.E., Seattle.